Batman & Bane: Rebirth, Insecurity, &Vulnerability
I have to say as a comic fan, we've had really good runs of Batman writers over the last 15 years or so. Jeph Loeb, Grant Morrison, Scott Snyder, and now Tom King are all fantastic. If you are a DC fan, you probably weren't thrilled at the concept of another universe reboot, but honestly, Rebirth really has lived up to its namesake. Not only was it a fresh start for DC, but revitalized the company. I see this especially in the Batman books. Red Hood and Detective are as good as they have ever been, and I'm truly loving what I'm seeing in the main Batman series. While I'm loving the art and the great narrative, one of the things I'm loving most is the vulnerability of the characters. Batman and Bane are arguably some of the most strong willed, self-determined, willful, and confident characters in all of comics. Yet in the current series (primarily issues 1-13), we see them not only showing their own insecurities and vulnerabilities, but actually being conflicted and struggling with them. It's really refreshing to see these powerhouses actually dealing with the things that overwhelm them internally. It makes them so much more real as characters.
In the opening issue of the series, Batman is struggling to maintain his grip on his city. A plane is crashing, and he is doing everything within his power to save it. It results in a scene that truly defines everything we love about the hero. Yet even in the midst of what truly looks like could be his final effort to save his city, he is lost in the concept of his own validity and accomplishment. As he rides a crashing plane, he asks Alfred, "Would they… mother and father, would they be proud? Is this a good death?" It's a moment that takes the physical spectacle of the situation and casts it aside for the thought that inside this man is just a kid trying to make an effort to honor the vow he made to his dead parents.
We deal with anxiety, insecurities, stress, and fear. So did Batman.
David makes a plea in Psalms that echoes this. He writes, "Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24).
David cries out to God to search him and see all the messed up thoughts, feelings, emotions, and hidden things that racked his heart and help him to deal with them. These are things we need to do. Batman was left asking Alfred these types of questions while facing death, but we don't have to wait until we are at a breaking point to have this kind of self-examination. We can be real not only with ourselves in acknowledging these issues, but like David, seek God's help in overcoming them.
Batman primarily keeps his own feelings internalized and ignores his own issues, but is quick to correct others. It's not always a jerky thing either; he really can inspire hope. When rescuing the young man that would one day become the hero "Gotham," he gave him this inspiration. ”You're going to be scared for a while, and that's fine, be scared. Everyone gets scared, but remember all that means is everyone gets the opportunity to fight that fear. Everyone gets the chance to be brave." Once Gotham grew and became his own hero, Batman continued to push him. "I've been watching you. You're good. You're doing good. Do better." He pushes and prods Gotham and Gotham girl not just because he wants to be a mentor, but because he realizes that he will not always be able to save Gotham. In a moment of full honesty, he admits he knows he will die doing this, and then Dick will take over, but then Dick will die. What would happen then? He believes Gotham and Gotham girl could be the answer. Instead of just being open with them about their concerns and pouring into them with the intentionality of bringing them under his wing (or cape), he keeps them at an arms length in the process. Batman wanted to build these two up not to replace himself primarily, but to be the supplemental heroes Gotham needed to go beyond what Batman could do.
It really was interesting to watch this play out at the same time as the Detective comics arch. In one book, Batman is passive aggressively training a couple supers, while in the other he has assembled a team of peers and even villains where he is pouring into them directly and encouraging them to learn together. It would have been so much more impactful to fold Gotham & Gotham girl into something, like the team Batwoman had established. We have to make sure that we don’t let our insecurities or concerns keep us from pouring into people in the way that will be most effective for them. Not everyone receives encouragement and instruction the same way, but we have to be real with ourselves if we are going to be real with others.
"Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as your are doing." - 1 Thessalonians 5:11
"If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together." - 1 Corinthians 12:26
"But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." - Hebrews 3:13
Unfortunately, Batman’s hope for Gotham becoming the future of Gotham (confusing right?) would come crashing down. As Psycho pirate turns Gotham into a foe not even the Justice League can take down and Gotham Girl is forced to nullify, Batman’s golden children of hope are disqualified.
Speaking of Psycho Pirate though, his interaction with Bane is the stuff of legend. Bane, the only man to straight up break the Batman, is relying on a cosmic super villain to feel good about himself. If you are unfamiliar with Psycho Pirate, he is a villain that, when he speaks to you with his mask on, he can make you feel and believe virtually anything. Bane literally kept one of the most power forces in the galaxy in his employ to make him feel that that he was “happy,” “brave,” and that he can “always stop.” This is the same man that was once so sure of himself, he brought Batman to his breaking point. He was a man of legend who could overthrow entire countries. Yet he was sitting on his little throne having Psycho Pirate give him life aspirations. Even when Batman confronted him, Bane offered Batman to be able to feel these things and find peace. This just shows that no matter how powerful we are and how much we accomplish, we will always have that void inside of ourselves. While we may not employ villains to convince ourselves of these things, we do plenty to fill that void in our hearts, and usually with the same results leaving us equally as empty. It’s important for us to be honest when we have these voids in our hearts and lives, but we need to be able to turn to God to fill them rather than manipulate people, situations, and ourselves in order to compensate. It’s understandable that we would wish for someone to come along and restore our hearts and to cast out the fears that overtake them.
"Above all else guard your heart for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23)
"There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." (1 John 4:18)
Bane offers Batman the services of the pirate because Bane recognizes that he isn't the only one who struggles with these voids. I also think it would make Bane feel more secure in his decisions if Batman also adhered to them. Bane was, of course, right that Batman would benefit from them. Even in Batman's assault to make it to Bane, he was filled with self-doubt as we see in the narrative letter he composed to Catwoman.
"After the alley and the gun. And the pearls. What use was I? A grown man dressed as an animal, sitting on a gargoyle waiting for crime to come. And when it comes, he’s just going to punch crime in the face. And if that grown man just punches crime hard enough, then that’ll just make everything alright. It’s funny.”
It is so contradictory to me to think of Batman so full of self-doubt when in most pop culture norms, Batman is the alpha. He's the cool one and the one who can win any fight with prep time. He’s the one who could outsmart anyone and be 10 steps ahead of any foe. However, It doesn’t matter how many obstacles we can overcome in the world if we can't be content with who we are and what have. Let's not even mention the fact that Batman is uber rich and could have any comfort in the world he wanted. But as we see in scripture, not only are possessions and situations in life gifts from God, but so is the ability to enjoy them.
“Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil, this is a gift of God" - Ecclesiastes 5:19
As he wrote to Catwoman about what lead him to the place of truly becoming Batman, he recounts the fact that he prayed to God for help and felt alone.
"I pray and no one…. no one answers. No one answers. No one answers. I was alone. Like everyone else. Like everyone in Gotham. I saw everyone in Gotham, all of us. Were all on our knees, our hands together. The blood and the blade warm between them. We pray and no one answers. " It's a feeling I'm sure so many of us are familiar with. When we pray and don't see immediate response. His cry is very similar to what we see in Habakkuk 1, "How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted?" - Habakkuk 1:2-4
Batman, like Habakkuk, had felt his prayers were unanswered, which makes it hard to find security, accomplishment, worth, and validation in God when you feel like He isn't listening. But He is. Even when it feels like He is silent, He is still the one we are to turn to.
God responds to Habakkuk in verse 5 when He says, “Look at the nations and watch— and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.” God had answers for Habakkuk, even when he felt God was silent. I know Batman is fictional, but in a real world scenario, I believe God would have answers for him, too. If Batman were someone crying out for his city in real life, God would often use the one crying out to help be part of the solution, much like Batman is for Gotham.
So let me leave you with this. Be honest with yourself. Don't be a caricature of who you truly are. Share your vulnerabilities, insecurities, doubts, and fears with others and share them with God. Even when God seems distant, don't give up. When we truly learn to accept God's strength for our weakness is when we find rebirth.